Former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray came to Knoxville with the size and arm strength that college and NFL scouts drool about.
He is 6-foot-6, a lean 215 pounds, has a rocket arm and brought Vols fans to their feet with his ability to put deep downfield passes right on target.
His physical attributes bring to mind two Vols quarterbacks that preceded Bray – Peyton Manning and Heath Shuler.
My question is, will Tyler Bray become Manning, or Shuler?
Only Bray can answer that question, but unless he has a significant lifestyle and mental makeover, my money says he will be more like Shuler and I don’t mean to infer Bray will become a U.S. Senator.
If Bray is to succeed in the NFL, he has landed in the right camp with the right coach.
There is nowhere but up to go as a Kansas City Chief under the friendliest of friendly quarterback mentors in Coach Andy Reid.
Does Bray have what it takes to become a starting NFL quarterback?
The answer is all between his ears, just as it was with Manning and Shuler. Manning was the epitome of being a student of the game – mastering the mental part of the most difficult position to play in the sport.
Unlike Manning and Shuler, Bray did not have the coaching at Tennessee that they profited from. He had Derek Dooley.
Shuler was the third player picked in the 1994 NFL draft. He was tagged quarterback of the future for the Washington Redskins. However, when he held out in training camp to acquire a $19.25 million contract, he fell out of favor with some veterans. More importantly, he lagged behind in learning the playbook, a more difficult playbook than he had at Tennessee.
In his third season, Shuler lost his job to Gus Frerotte, was traded to New Orleans, where he suffered a serious foot injury that he never recovered from.
In 1997, Football Outsiders made Shuler its “least valuable’’ NFL quarterback that year.
As everyone knows, Manning has won just about everything you can win in the NFL.
Bray comes in with far fewer expectations. He had three losing seasons at Tennessee and came out early. He was ignored in the recent NFL draft and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs.
As a junior Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns. He benefitted from having wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. Patterson was drafted by Minnesota with the 29th pick. Hunter quickly followed, grabbed by the Titans in the second round, who moved up six spots to draft him.
It wasn’t Bray’s physical ability that prevented NFL teams from taking him. He had too many red flag issues. He would sulk on the field when things didn’t go his way. He made bad decisions in the passing game. Off the field, his lack of maturity and judgment became a black mark against him. Whether it was throwing beer bottles off an apartment balcony onto parked cars below, or other bone-headed incidents, Bray’s NFL stock dropped off the chart.
“I made a lot of mistakes at Tennessee, a lot of off-the-field issues,’’ Bray told ESPN.com. “That had a lot to do with it. They were just stupid mistakes. I’m here now, I’m a free agent and that’s OK with me.’’
Manning, or Shuler? It’s all between the ears for Tyler Bray.